The inestimable Professor Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia has produced a most fascinating graph comparing the combined electoral fortunes in Senate, House, Gubernatorial and State Legislature elections for the party of each President since World War Two. After two disastrous mid term elections (2010 and 2014), President Obama is on track to post the worst results of any President since WW 2.
“Some presidents did fairly well by their parties, relatively speaking. Truman’s nearly eight years in office came at the end of an extraordinarily long period of Democratic control (1932-1952), yet his losses — while serious — were modest compared to many of his successors.
Eisenhower left the GOP in much worse shape when he left office in 1961, with a net loss of 14 governors, 12 senators, 48 House members, and a whopping 843 state legislators. Republicans wouldn’t recover much of this ground until Reagan.
Kennedy’s Democrats were in solid shape in all categories during his brief tenure, but despite a landslide with lengthy coattails for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, Democrats had suffered major erosion in federal and state positions by 1968, notably losing 15 net governorships and 437 state legislative seats.
The Nixon-Ford years, capped by the Watergate scandal and Ford’s pardon of Nixon, left an overall record that mimicked Eisenhower’s in some ways, though the GOP was left at an even lower ebb once Ford exited the White House in 1977. The shell-shocked Republicans were at rock bottom in the number of governorships, House seats, state legislative seats, and state legislative chambers.
Of all modern presidents, Reagan could boast the best record. In fact, he is the only president to achieve a gain in any category — a slight net addition of six Republican state legislators from 1980 to 1988. (There are almost 7,400 state legislators, so this is a very modest advance, but a unique one all the same.) Still, Reagan left the GOP in a substantially weaker minority status in both the U.S. Senate and House.
Democrats were delirious when Bill Clinton restored them to power in 1992, a euphoria that lasted until his unpopularity pushed both houses of Congress to Republican control two years later. Despite a marginal improvement in Democratic fortunes during the rest of Clinton’s administration, the party registered a net loss of 11 governorships, seven Senate seats, 45 House seats, 524 state legislative berths, and 18 state legislative chambers.
George W. Bush’s long-term losses were more modest. Nonetheless, with Bush’s sharp drop in job approval because of his handling of the Iraq War and Katrina (plus GOP congressional scandals), Democrats regained full control of Congress in 2006, and in 2008 secured outright majorities in 60 of the states’ 98 legislative chambers (excluding Nebraska’s nonpartisan unicameral body).
However, it is Barack Obama who holds the modern record for overall losses, at least through 2014. President Obama has presided over two devastating midterms for his party. From 2008 to the present, Democrats in the Obama era have racked up net forfeitures of 11 governorships, 13 Senate seats, 69 House seats, 913 state legislative seats, and 30 state legislative chambers. In the latter three categories, Obama has doubled (or more) the average two-term presidential loss from Truman through Bush.”